Australian Nurse Nicole Campbell has recently returned from her second field assignment with Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Jordan. She talks about her experiences in MSF’s maternity hospital in Irbid, where she spent three months working as a neonatal nurse.
Tell us about MSF’s project in Irbid
The Irbid project in Jordan was set up to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis by providing free maternal and newborn healthcare for both the refugees and vulnerable Jordanians. MSF also runs a mental health program for children showing signs of distress from war and displacement. The objective of the project is to cover the health needs of refugees in host communities in Jordan who have no access to such care elsewhere. Jordan is now home to more than one million refugees fleeing Syria.
The neonatal unit has recently expanded to care for 16 newborns. We have the capacity to foster the development of premature babies as well as treat those babies that are sick due to sepsis (severe infection) or jaundice for example.
What does an ordinary day involve?
My daily activities in the neonatal unit involve attending morning handover, assessing the babies and any new admissions with the nursing staff, facilitating ward rounds with the medical and nursing teams and giving in-service training on a topic of the week. We are also currently trying to expand our catchment area in Irbid Governorate so we are getting ourselves out there, making sure people know who Médecins Sans Frontières is and how we can help them.
Is there a patient story you could share?
When I first arrived in Jordan there was a baby diagnosed with neonatal diabetes mellitus, a rare form of diabetes different to types 1 and 2 which occur later. The neonatal condition can be chronic and lifelong. This baby was on continuous IV fluids, a gruelling insulin regime and countless procedures to maintain and monitor his blood glucose levels. He and his mother will always be memorable as it’s the first newborn I have ever seen with diabetes mellitus.
They stayed with us for a very long time and eventually we were able to discharge them. When the mother came back into the hospital the baby was now three months old. She had a log book with all his blood glucose readings and was able to tell us her management for every event. It was impressive how well this little family was adapting to the needs of the baby and how happy they were, especially because this mother had previously lost two babies both with in the first 3-5 days of life. By providing advanced neonatal care to this newborn we saved its life and helped this mother complete her family.
What do you consider to be the greatest rewards or challenges?
The greatest rewards were sending babies home to their families at the end of the day. Seeing mothers who have been so frightened and so unsure bonding with the nursing staff, sharing in our successes, supporting each other and smiling when the day comes that they can go home.
The greatest challenge for me was being aware that there are thousands of Syrians in refugee camps and knowing that these women are having babies and need healthcare. Getting access to these women and offering them a safe, free place to have their baby is not as easy as it would seem.
What kind of an impact did this field assignment have on you?
Professionally it has developed in ways I never imagined. I have gained management skills, leadership skills and a level of adaptability I didn’t know were possible. I have no problem going to meetings with other NGOs and communicating the needs of Médecins Sans Frontières. I’ve also been able to become a strong advocate for the rights of our patients and a voice for the nurses. I really enjoyed helping to empower the nurses to be informed, to challenge and to educate each other.
What would you say to other neonatal nurses considering work with MSF?
If you really want to do it, and you want to do it for the right reasons, then it will be the best decision you will make. It will change who you are and the way you see the world. If you can give one baby or one child back to their family in an environment where they have nowhere else to turn, then it’s a feeling that will stay with you forever.